Mark 13:3–11 ESV
And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.
“But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.”
It was one of those conversations for the ages. Jesus and four alarmed disciples sat atop the ancient Mount of Olives gazing across the Kidron Valley at the majesty of the magnificent temple. In a stunned silence, they tried to wrap their minds around the unthinkable: that the temple, this enduring monument to their favored national identity and the focal point of their faith, would be decimated in ruins. They had moved from if to when.
“Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?”
All their hopes lived in Jesus Messiah, the One who would reinstate the sovereignty of God in the land, restore the kingdom, expel the infidels of Rome, and usher in an era of unprecedented peace and prosperity. They probably saw Jesus’ raucous rumble in the temple as the pre-game warm-up; a flexing of messianic muscle. They had no category for a post-Jesus, post-temple Israel. The whole thing seemed to be coming apart at the seams, unraveling before their very eyes.
It’s not a fitting analogy, but for example’s sake, imagine the United States of America not only ravaged by terrorists, but ruled by them. Imagine the complete destruction of the Capitol building and the White House and the great memorials. It is so unthinkable, it’s impossible to imagine. And there isn’t even a word to describe the prospect of imagining what would happen beyond that.
Jesus is talking to his disciples not only about the unthinkable day when it would all come down, but worse, the unimaginable day after that. Now, note what he says to them. In my understanding and way of thinking about it, he told them something akin to the following:
You are about to find yourselves at the tip of the spear of the movement of my gospel, which will not stop until it reaches every nation on the planet. The Holy Spirit is going to carry you to places you never dreamed of going. At times, you will find yourselves on the wrong side of a prison door. At other times, you will find yourselves standing before the thrones of kings. Do not be afraid. You answer only to the King of kings. The world will seem to literally fall apart all around you, but do not be afraid. You will be following the trail of the One who will in fact be making all things new. The forces of sin and death and evil will be unrelenting in their pursuit of you, but do not be afraid. You will be standing on the shoulders of a Messiah who has defeated the rule of sin and destroyed the reign of death. The days ahead will be painstakingly hard, but they will be wholeheartedly glorious.
Here’s the good news: I’ve got this, and you’ve got me and everywhere you go I will establish my kingdom and build my church, and the gates of hell don’t stand a chance. No weapon formed against this gospel will prosper. All who rise up against it will fall down. Be warned though: nothing is going to happen like you expected it to happen, and you will thank me later. For it will only be in the wake of the death of your expectations that the future of my making can break through. Let go of your expectations so that a deeper expectancy might be birthed. Let go of your fears and take hold of me. Let go of your control and take up my cross. All of your training and experience has brought you to this place where you hold nothing but possess everything. You are on the eve of a future you could never in a million years look ahead and predict, and it will lead to looking back on a past you would never in a million years change. Be on your guard. Don’t be alarmed. And never be afraid.
I don’t mean to put words in Jesus’ mouth and, to be sure, I make absolutely no claim that he ever said what I’ve written. That said, I do think this is the kind of thing he would say. I think this is the kind of thing he was saying in the days leading up to the cross and in those pre-dawn days of Pentecost. Frankly, I think it’s the same kind of thing he may be saying to his church throughout the world, and perhaps in a timely way, to the church in America. Finally, I think it’s the kind of thing he may be saying to many of you today. So take it and test it. Perhaps there’s a word of prophecy tucked in there somewhere for you.
Wherever the systems, securities, structures, and wherewithal of the world as we know it is coming apart at the seams, you can bet the kingdom of God is coming together at its core.
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
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